Lost in Translation: The misreporting of Lee Hsien Yang’s passport situation by Mothership based on translated report

Lost in Translation: The misreporting of Lee Hsien Yang’s passport situation by Mothership based on translated report

Media outlets in Singapore took turns reporting on the Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) findings, which were released on 5 May, that imposed financial penalties on Kwa Kim Li, the late Lee Kuan Yew (LKY)’s lawyer, for her misconduct in handling LKY’s wills.

The tribunal hearing stemmed from complaints filed by the executors in September 2019. These complaints included allegations of breached privilege and violations of confidentiality.

Specifically, Mdm Kwa was accused of sending emails containing records of communications with LKY to Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who was not an executor of the estate, as well as misleading the executors.

The DT concluded that Mdm Kwa, who is the niece of LKY’s wife, had indeed misled the executors, Dr Lee Wei Ling (LWL), and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), by withholding crucial information in response to their inquiries and making false and misleading statements.

As a result, the DT deemed her actions to be unbecoming of an advocate and solicitor and ordered her to pay a penalty of $8,000. Additionally, the DT instructed Mdm Kwa to bear the costs of the Law Society of Singapore (LSS), amounting to $12,000, as well as disbursements totalling $9,182.

Moreover, the DT imposed an additional penalty of $5,000 on Mdm Kwa for a separate charge related to the failure to meticulously safeguard LKY’s confidentiality during the handling of his will. Furthermore, she was directed to pay LSS a cost of $5,000 and cover all disbursements associated with the charge.

Application to give evidence by video link

In the DT’s report, one of the preliminary issues documented was about LHY’s application to provide evidence through video-link instead of appearing in person.

It was written:

Shortly before the commencement of the evidentiary hearing, the Complainant [LHY] applied for his evidence to be given by video link. The application was supported by an affidavit. The Respondent [Mdm Kwa] objected to the application.

The reason given by the Complainant was that his “passport was currently being held by immigration authorities in connection with an immigration issue and that he was unlikely to get it back in time for the Hearing.”

A video hearing was held to determine the application. The Complainant submitted that he was unable to travel due to matters beyond his control, that there were appropriate administrative arrangements and technical facilities available for him to give evidence by video link, and that the Complainant would face unfair prejudice if the application was not granted.

Despite repeated requests by the DT, Counsel for the Complainant declined to state the purpose for which the passport had been handed over, or even when the Complainant had handed over the passport.

This latter question was critical as it touched the question of whether the Complainant’s inability to travel was a matter beyond his control or occasioned by his own actions. This argument was made forcefully by the Respondent’s counsel, who also submitted that the Respondent would be prejudiced by the inability to cross-examine the Complainant in person. The Complainant’s response was that the Complainant was a formal witness and that the Complainant’s case was based on documents.

After careful consideration, we allowed the application for the Complainant to give evidence by video link even though we were disturbed by the Complainant’s refusal to give reasons why and the circumstances under which he did not have possession of his passport.

Allowing the Complainant to give evidence by video link would permit us to carry out our investigative function with the full benefit of all available evidence. We were of the view that the Respondent would not be prejudiced by having to conduct the cross-examination by video link. In making our determination, we applied the standard and the tests set out in the section 281(5B) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 and section 62A(2) of the Evidence Act 1893.

Lianhe Zaobao and Mothership report LHY’s passport being seized

Of the various media outlets that reported on the matter, only Lianhe Zaobao and Mothership covered the passport issue that was highlighted in the DT’s report.

Chinese-language newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao, in its report, stated that LHY, as the complainant, had requested to give evidence via video as “his passport was seized by immigration” and was unable to attend the disciplinary hearing.

While Mothership, relying on Lianhe Zaobao’s report and translation, wrote that LHY was supposed to attend the hearing in person but claimed that “ICA seized his passport” – a point which Lianhe Zaobao did not state in its report – and thus, requested to give evidence through video-link.


It should be clear from the exact wording of the DT’s report that LHY had said the passport was held by immigration authorities over immigration issues instead of it being “seized”.

Mothership went further to assume that the immigration authorities, as stated in Lianhe Zaobao’s report, referred to the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA).

Putting aside how it was wrongly translated or interpreted, logically, it would not have made sense for LHY to have his passport held by ICA when the Singapore Government is asking him to return back to Singapore to assist in a police investigation and that LHY is not a fugitive travelling without a travel document.

The above example illustrates the potential for information distortion through mistranslation and dependence on third-party sources. Discrepancies in reporting among various media outlets can create confusion and possibly lead to a misinformed public.

In an era characterized by rapid information dissemination, the potential for misinterpretation and misinformation is significant, and inaccuracies can have wide-ranging impacts. This risk is particularly pronounced for individuals who, unlike Ministers, do not have protective measures like the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to safeguard their interests.

Update: Mothership has corrected its article on the part of ICA seizing LHY’s passport.

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